Yale Daily News

Yale’s highest administrative body spent its last meeting discussing how to increase college access for community college transfer students and veterans. 

Each month, University President Peter Salovey’s cabinet — made up of the University’s deans and vice presidents — meets to discuss a set of University’s priorities. The January meeting included a presentation regarding community college student and veteran admissions, according to Pericles Lewis, Vice President of Global Strategy and Vice Provost of Academic Initiatives. The meeting was led by Catharine Bond Hill ’85, managing director of Ithaka S+R and former senior trustee.

“Yale is traditionally a very elite institution,” Lewis told the News. “But I think President Salovey and both Dean Chun, former Dean Holloway who came before him and Dean Quinlan have all made a real priority of increasing access to Yale, and I think that’s extremely important.” 

Hill joined Ithaka S+R — a nonprofit that works to “broaden access to higher education by reducing costs and improving student outcomes,” according to their website — in 2016, after serving as the president of Vassar College for 10 years. At Vassar, she worked to establish a partnership with the Posse Foundation to start a program to admit veterans to Vassar. 

Lewis told the News that Hill is knowledgeable about “the higher education enterprise,” and that she shared her experience at Vassar and current research with the entire Cabinet.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan wrote to the News that Yale is involved with Ithaka S+R through the American Talent Initiative, which the University joined as an inaugural member in 2016. Members of the initiative “make a public commitment” to increase the number of low-income students at their schools and discuss best practices with other member schools. 

The ATI is led jointly by Ithaka S+R and the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program. Quinlan wrote that ATI has recognized the University for its fast growth in the low-income student population, and the University has participated in their conferences discussing veteran recruitment since they began in 2018. 

Lewis told the News that the Cabinet meeting focused on “broad trends” in higher education. He said that the meeting focused specifically on issues related to veterans and community college students, including the development of the Eli Whitney Students Program. 

Hill told the News that community colleges are a “wonderful access point.” About one million students start at community colleges across the country each year, she said, and 80 percent initially plan to get a bachelor’s degree, but only 13 percent end up getting their bachelor’s degree within six years of starting at community college. Hill attributed the discrepancy mostly to transfer credit issues, especially at schools where individual departments within universities have to approve transfer credits. 

“I think the problem in America is that the transfer pipeline doesn’t work very well,” Hill said. 

Hill explained that some four-year universities have agreements with community colleges to ensure that their credits will transfer. However, she also said that there needs to be work on both the community college end in helping with advising and support and on the four-year University end in making transferring credits easier. 

Yale’s current policy is to admit all transfer students with between 8-18 Yale credits, depending on their transcript. Yale does not consider whether one came from a two-year community college or a four-year college when evaluating transcripts to assign credit.

“I’ve repeatedly said in many places that we need all segments of higher education working towards getting the educational attainment up, and community colleges are trying to do it, and they’re very under-resourced,” Hill said. “So if we could get more public funds and support for community colleges, they could then invest in some of the best practices that we know work.” 

Hill emphasized that tackling problems facing community college students involves both public support and a “continued evaluation” of how to fix current programs. 

“You can do a great job investing and improving community colleges,” Hill said. “But if students can’t transfer and get the four-year degree, you’ve kind of got a roadblock there.” 

Hill said these problems for transfer students are exacerbated for adult learners — those who have attended community college in the past and want to pick up their education later in life — as they often cannot access their past transfer credits or have factors like employment or family that inhibit them from seeking a four-year education. 

The Eli Whitney Students Program is one of the University’s initiatives to admit community college students, and Yale College recently announced enhancements to financial aid policies for Eli Whitney students. The University will now cover the full cost of attendance for Eli Whitney students with demonstrated need and provide a child care subsidy for students with children. 

Patricia Wei, the director of admissions for the Eli Whitney Students Program and the director of veterans outreach, wrote to the News that the University has several efforts for outreach to community college students. For example, Wei wrote that the admissions team reaches out to members of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society for community college students, and they also host Yale-specific information sessions about the Eli Whitney Program. 

The University also partners with the Transfer Scholars Network, a group coordinated by the Aspen Institute. Wei noted that TSN comprises 13 four-year institutions and seven community colleges, with a shared goal of increasing the pipeline of students from two-year colleges to four-year schools with high graduation rates.

In addition to focusing on ways to make Yale more accessible to community college students, the University Cabinet also discussed challenges related to recruiting veterans to attend four-year universities. 

Hill told the News that the main problem facing admissions for veterans is convincing veterans to attend a four-year university. She said that in 2021, there were over 5 million veterans eligible for the post-9/11 GI bill, and two-thirds of them do not have a bachelor’s degree. But most veterans end up in the transfer pool when applying to four-year universities, so they face similar problems as community college students. And despite continuous research showing the usefulness of a bachelor’s degree, Hill said, many veterans do not think they should go to a four-year university. 

“When I started doing this work on veterans, I thought most of the problem was convincing four year schools to admit veterans as either first years or transfers,” Hill said. “And there’s also a problem that the veterans themselves don’t always know or believe that going to a four year school is their best option.” 

She said that veterans are half as likely to enroll in a college or university with a graduation rate over 70 percent than the average prospective student. She also said there have been recent problems because the standardized test that veterans often take, the College Level Examinations Program, has become difficult to access during the pandemic.

Wei wrote to the News that Yale does not accept CLEP exams for credit or placement, but has worked with the College Board to use the scores to identify candidates who would be a good fit for Yale. 

“Fortunately, as with other testing sources that the admissions office uses to help identify prospective students, … COVID-related disruptions to CLEP exam administrations have not been so widespread that they have caused major shifts in our outreach strategy,” Wei wrote to the News. 

Wei added that Yale is in full agreement with Hill’s desire to see more veterans and community college students in four-year colleges.

“Yale is seeking to expand the number of student veterans and students from community colleges, many of whom are adult students who would be a good fit for the Eli Whitney Students Program,” Wei wrote. 

The University has ongoing efforts to increase outreach to veterans and community college students. For example, Wei wrote that the admissions team has recently created and promoted outreach videos, one for veterans and service members and another for prospective Eli Whitney Students. Yale’s admissions team also partners with organizations that work with service members and veterans looking to pursue undergraduate study such as Service to School and Warrior Scholar Project

Finally, the admissions office conducts joint virtual information sessions with Williams College, Amherst College, Pomona College and Princeton University geared specifically toward service members and veterans, community college students and community college transfer advisors. 

The University Cabinet has 24 members. 

Sarah Cook covers student policy and affairs, and she previously covered President Salovey's cabinet. Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, she is a sophomore in Grace Hopper majoring in Neuroscience.